You Need Help: You’re Gay but Oh No You’re Falling for a Man, What the F*ck

Q:

I’ve identified as lesbian/gay/queer for a long time now, and coming out was extremely liberating to me and I felt like I really came into myself and became more confident, more open, more honest, more willing to be vulnerable, etc. Being queer just fit me. And now… I’ve developed feelings for a man. Like, not just noticing in passing that he’s attractive or nice but holy shit really intense crush/emotional feelings. And it’s fucking me way up. Not only because I feel like my identity is shifting in a major way, but because moving through the world as a queer and women-centered person allowed me to shed or ignore so much of the shitty cultural messaging we get w/r/t bodies, internalized misogyny, internalized homophobia, etc. And now I feel like my self-esteem is really taking a dive because I feel like since having developed feelings for a man I see myself through “the male gaze” and am sure that I’m too fat, too loud, too ugly, not smart enough, etc., for anyone – particularly a man – to be interested in me. I’m not gonna say that I had like perfect self-love all the time before this, but I have these feelings much more intensely now and they change not only the way I feel about myself but the way I dress, eat, present myself, and just generally show up in the world. It fucking sucks!

How does one successfully navigate such a dramatic shift in a long-held and cherished identity?! Is it possible to have relationships with men devoid of internalized homophobia, misogyny, etc? Is it worthwhile to tell this person how I feel – could I possibly expect anyone to navigate all this baggage with me? What do I do to feel good about myself in the interim? Any and all thoughts/advice are appreciated. And BTW, I am going to therapy, exercising, journaling, trying to practice good self care, etc… but it’s especially challenging right now!

A:

First of all, congrats on being so self-aware! I know this doesn’t feel good, but honestly you’re leaps and bounds ahead of so many women who are experiencing this as they relate with men in some way or another but don’t even know how to name it. You’re articulating your internal experience and working to take care of yourself and navigate this as healthily as you can, so you’re doing great.

It feels to me like we’re talking about at least three things here: what it means about your identity that you’re into this guy, what your options are as far as navigating the sudden renewed pressure of internalized male gaze, and how you want to navigate your actual dynamic with this actual person. Obviously they all relate, but let’s talk about them one by one for a minute.

What you’re talking about here both in terms of identity and gaze is really real! I know you know this but it bears repeating: being attracted to this dude does not make you not queer anymore. It does not make you less queer. It does make you probably not a lesbian, and to the extent that that was a specific identifier that felt important to you — I’m not sure about it from your question — it’s a good idea to take some time and space to let yourself feel how you feel about that, whether that feeling is loss or sadness or confusion or something else entirely. What you shouldn’t feel or at least let yourself wallow in, though, are shame or self-loathing. You aren’t bad or letting anyone down for having an identity that’s different than what you thought, or being attracted to someone you thought you couldn’t be. It’s a real experience and feeling; at the same time, it doesn’t mean anything about your character or personhood. You aren’t going to lose your community, history or sense of self over this; you may be in a transitional place for a while and feel like you don’t have all the answers, but you aren’t going to lose everything you’ve built in this part of your life that matters to you. Your connection to this identity and community have always been real, and will stay that way. There are so, so many other women who have been (and are!) in the position you’re describing — I hope you can find some of them in your local community and be affirmed in how normal an experience it is to realize your identity is a little different than you thought even after you were sure it was locked in. (Maybe some of those people will comment on this post, even! Who knows!)

You’re right about the internalized stuff, too: it fucking sucks. One of the most powerful and liberating aspects of queerness can be how hot and affirming queer desire can be; how the things that make us most ourselves in our bodies and our identities can also make us really hot to people we find really hot. It’s also true though that a lot of those same things about our identities and our bodies don’t track the same in straight spaces and mainstream culture — the same things about me that make me feel hot and interesting in queer spaces often make me feel awkward or like a failure at being a woman right in straight spaces. Which is not a good way to feel! And it’s especially not a good way to feel around someone you’re into and particularly want to feel good and sexy with. It’s a tall order, I think, for you to take on exorcising yourself of internalized misogyny and male gaze all on your own — it would be the emotional equivalent of deciding that you personally had to be accountable for stopping climate change by shaving down your shower time and recycling more. You’re caught in something that’s much bigger than you, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect yourself to just white-knuckle your way out of it. It’s great that you’re in therapy, and probably that is already giving you the tool of naming and noticing the harmful stories you’re unintentionally telling yourself about your clothes, your body, your choices, etc. Even just saying to yourself “wow, that was some internalized misogyny!” or noticing “I would be livid at anyone who said about a friend of mine what I just thought about myself!” is a good start.

One thing I have come to notice over years and years of navigating the weird tension between queer desirability and the relentless internalized gaze is that the first one is generally reciprocal: in navigating desire and desirability with other queer people, we tend to think not just about our own goodness or hotness but about what we want and like in other people. Knowing that we like a lot of the visibly queer or gender nonconforming or fat or “too loud” things about other people — that we’re actually really attracted to them — informs how we see ourselves. In straight spaces and culture, especially for women, that dynamic doesn’t exist in the same way? Women are encouraged to obsessively nitpick and curate themselves and their behavior to be as desirable as possible, but not necessarily really encouraged to evaluate or have desires for the same things in their partners. The question tends to be “Am I good enough for him to be into me? How could he ever possibly be into me?,” maybe sometimes “Are there any red flags/is he just a TOTAL mess” rather than “Are we both into each other, and why? How does he make me feel and what does he offer that I want in a potential partner?”

I’m not saying women who date men in straight contexts can’t or don’t have standards or desires for partners, but that the overwhelming cultural narrative is that they should work to be desired, not to desire. When you’re caught in these spirals of “too fat, too loud, too ugly, not smart enough, etc., for anyone – particularly a man – to be interested in me,” I suspect you’re caught up almost entirely in the former question, and not the latter. It might help to regain some sense of your agency and remember your own self in this dynamic if you start consciously focusing more on the question of what you want, and whether this guy or any other potential person meets it. What do you like about him; how does he meet or not meet your hopes and dreams? How does he make you feel, and what does he offer? What about him is desirable? This isn’t to cut him down to size or to find flaws as a self-esteem booster, but so you can reframe yourself not as a passive participant in this dynamic, but as an active one, a person who has wants and needs and desires in a partner and deserves to have them met too. People of various genders should — and will! — strive to be what you want. Those are the people you deserve, not the person who does you the favor of deciding you’re good enough.

Is this particular dude someone who can and will do those things? I don’t know, and probably you don’t know, and maybe he doesn’t know either. Is it worthwhile to tell him how you feel? It’s impossible to say, really; at the end of the day you’re going to have to ask yourself what the opportunities for happiness and the risks for harm are here when deciding how to move forward, just like you would with anything else, and factor in the identity questions and internalized stuff this is bring up for you. I don’t know whether things will work out such that navigating those things in the way you are now feels “worth it;” I do think that in general, being honest with ourselves and with others even and especially when it’s hardest to turns out to be incredibly rewarding. If you do tell him how you feel, you might learn and grow from it in ways that are hard to anticipate from here regardless of how he responds. And from what’s come up in your question, it sounds like the response you’d be looking for may be more than just reciprocated interest, but interest in spite of all these things you’re feeling about yourself. You asked, “could I possibly expect anyone to navigate all this baggage with me?” Oh sugar, it breaks my heart to hear that question. Yes, yes you can possibly. Is this guy going to be a person who can and will navigate it with you? Again, no idea! I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. I can tell you that there are so, so many people — who could be in your life in any number of ways — who would consider it an honor and a joy to navigate this baggage and more with you. You aren’t a burden on the people in your life! You aren’t difficult to love, or annoying to show up for!

You asked if it was possible to have relationships with men devoid of internalized homophobia and misogyny, and it is with a heavy heart I must tell you the answer is “not really.” I don’t know if it’s even possible to have relationships not with men that are devoid of those things; again, they are bigger and older than us and the roots run very deep. It might, though, be possible to have a relationship with a man in which internalized homophobia/biphobia and misogyny are addressed in an ongoing way, and where everyone involved tries their hardest to take care of each other. That’s how it should be. If you do end up dating this man or men later on, your queerness and the complicated feelings you have about your relationship in that context won’t be something to apologize for or repress away. Your queerness and everything that goes with it are special and valuable and integral to you, and that’s something that he should be always working to make space for and honor and treat with incredible care. Which might be good for you to remember, too! I hope that you can go forward with this, however you choose to, with a sense of how valuable your own identity is and will always be, and treat it with incredible care.


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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 1028 articles for us.

44 Comments

  1. And now I’m crying. I really didn’t need to be crying at 6:30 am on a Monday morning before work. This hits home so much. I didn’t being to identify as queer/bisexual until I was four years into a happy relationship with a man. And I still grapple with what this means for my identity, how I’m perceived and how my queerness is erased. Thank you so much for this article.

  2. I have a question to the questioner. You described your feelings for this man as “intense crush/emotional feelings”. Are they sexual at all? Because if not, I think it would be nice for you to know that current scientific knowledge suggests that sexual attraction and emotional feelings are run by different brain structures, and there’s solid evidence to support the theory of sex researcher Lisa Diamond that only sexual attraction reflects your sexual orientation, while emotional feelings are always case-by-case, oriented towards specific people.

    Diamond commited a longitudinal study on a group of sexual minority women. Lots of lesbian identified women in her study identified as such because they thought they could only ever fall in love with a woman, but they felt some sexual attraction to men too. In the end, overwhelming majority of such women sooner or later found that “one, special” man.

    But on the other hand, there were also women who only felt sexual attraction to women, who fell for men too, and that served as final confirmation for them that they were indeed lesbians, since even love didn’t make them feel sexual attraction to those men.
    Overall, Diamond pointed out that the women who’ve always felt sexual attraction exclusively to women were the only “extremely solid group” (she didn’t study heterosexuals, but I assume it would be the same for them).

    There are also some celesbians who seem to follow similar pattern, like for example Lauren Morelli, so you could read and judge if their experiences feel familiar.

    • This is so interesting! I should have been in therapy the whole time, like the writer, but I’m just going now after almost a decade with a man. I did certainly fall in love with him. I do love him and we depend on each other and are raising kids together. But I definitely feel much more indifferent towards sex, like I could never have p&v sex again and be fine, but have continued to pine for the sex and attraction I’ve felt in the past. So it kind of lines up.

      • this resonates A LOT. The thing I keep trying to work out is which of the things I’m experiencing are a function of being in a monogamous long term relationship with one person as opposed to something more fundamental about who I am, as I think the response is/would be different. Is it the ebbs and flows of desire/interest or something more that won’t swing back over time…

      • Abby, if you’re planning to do that I recommend reading her book and studies before any articles that mention her, because you would get an impression that completely mischaracterizes her work.

        Diamond is the creator of ‘sexual fluidity theory’, which, btw, means completely different thing than what most people think it means, but almost every internet article that talks about ‘sexual fluidity’ frames it as “all women are bisexual” and quotes Diamond out of context, or sometimes actually in context.
        I noticed Diamond isn’t innocent when it comes to trying to create some media buzz to bring attention to her work, but the work itself actually contradicts such narrative.

  3. I can really relate to this situation. I identified as a lesbian and exclusively attracted to women from age 18 to my early 30s when I was surprised to find myself really strongly attracted to a cis man. It really messed with my idea of who I was and took awhile to get used to this shift in my identity. But I eventually did!

  4. This seems like a great time to revisit the bi-dating-men open thread (https://www.autostraddle.com/we-see-you-an-open-thread-for-bisexual-women-dating-men-300258/)… not because the question asker is or should identify as bi, but because there were sooooo many discussions in there about navigating internal and external phobias and gazes and feeling queer enough and all the shit. That thread meant so much to me, and might serve the purpose recommended here of finding others w similar experiences, if the QA can’t find them in their lives communities.

  5. This seems like a great time to revisit the bi-dating-men open thread (https://www.autostraddle.com/we-see-you-an-open-thread-for-bisexual-women-dating-men-300258/)… not because the question asker is or should identify as bi, but because there were sooooo many discussions in there about navigating internal and external phobias and gazes and feeling queer enough and all the shit. That thread meant so much to me, and might serve the purpose recommended here of finding others w similar experiences, if the QA can’t find them in their lived communities.

  6. Rachel that is awesome advice as always. I’d like to say me too been then I hear you girlfriend and lend support but for me it’s comlicated and here is why.

    Just because you haven’t been into men before doesn’t mean that you’ll never happen to find one attractive and nice maybe even sweet and super into you.

    Maybe you’ll click in ways you’ve never clicked with in another human being before. Maybe you will find something else entirely but by all means follow your heart. What is your heart telling you? Also you don’t really know the baggage he may be carrying he may just be having the same internal conversation. Thinking that ‘she’s a lesbian she can’t be into me? Why do I find her attractive? She’ll just shoot me down’ etc etc.

    I have been there too I’ve dated women and men which BTW led me to my therory that men are like horses but that is me. Here is the key to enjoying your fullest life.

    You will never know until you know. You know?

    If you never try a thing you will regret not trying that thing. In your head you will wonder ‘what if’ till the end of your days and that will bog you down like nothing else. Decide is it worth the cost of the education to gain this experience? If it is go for it. Because you’ll never know until you know.

    I hear you and my thoughts are with you, hang in there this shit is hard.

  7. Rachel this is so incredibly well thought out and beautifully written.

    I fell for a guy and am still with him almost a decade later. I can’t say I have ever been 100% with some of the things you mention but I also don’t think I was as on top of self care and therapy as you are, and I might have done better if I was. It could be completely worthwhile to give it a shot! You could enjoy a really wonderful connection with someone.

  8. This is why I’m glad I found AS. My people.

    LW – you are not alone. I relate to this so much, even though the details of my story are different. I’m a bi woman in a LTR (17 years) with a man. My internal pendulum has swung a couple times – and each time it’s challenged my sense of self and identity.

    Rachel – you’ve given me something new to think about. I think I have a different experience of the internalized male gaze – I have it, but because I’m a survivor of CSA, I spent big chunks of my teens and 20s actively dressing to be invisible to men (like Erin, but with less style sense and a lot more baggy black garments).

    I’m much more comfortable in my body and with who I am now, in my 40s, and it’s much easier for me to dress for myself and my partner and ignore the larger culture (which is convenient, since the larger culture is happy to ignore my 48 yo body).

    One thing that has helped me navigate the male gaze thing with my male partner is that as we’ve become more intimate, I’ve realised that he also has a lot of fears about being too big, too clumsy, too etc to be attractive. And yet, he is attractive. And so am I. And the fact that my partner is attracted to me, tomboy femme ME, whether I’m wearing cargo pants or a sundress or (more rarely) a little black dress and heels, has given me a lot of confidence.

    • Me too! Bi and ltr (15 years) with a guy…I can relate to a lot of this. Though weirdly, I have felt more of the body pressure stuff with women – I feel more aggressively ‘this is me, deal’ with men, whereas I think it can be hard not to compare yourself against another woman, sometimes.

      I am in a big-time pendulum swing right now and not dealing super well. Lots of pining. But I like my life and am glad I took the chance/risk of loving a guy when I hadn’t planned on it.

      Hang in there, LW!

  9. “I’m not saying women who date men in straight contexts can’t or don’t have standards or desires for partners, but that the overwhelming cultural narrative is that they should work to be desired, not to desire.”

    This is so true, and so many women who have sex with men (be they bi or straight) are stigmatized when they do make choices around their own desires and not simply the need to be desired.

  10. Wowwow thank you for this.

    I’m currently going through something similar and have been dealing with a lot of internalized biphobia and confusion.

    One of the hardest parts is talking through my feelings with him in a way that doesn’t increase his anxieties about being an experiment for me, and that is a lot easier to do when I’m not also scared of being rejected by the queer community. So this post and the comments have felt like much needed aloe vera gel on a gnarly emotional sunburn.

  11. Hi poster, I love you. Every 6 months or so I go through my “bisexual angst” where I wonder if I can survive having my big love be with a straight cisdude because I love women and my queerness so much. All of that is still pending, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that:

    If you are queer, YOUR RELATIONSHIPS ARE QUEER, no matter what they look like or how they are configured. Everything I learned and valued in queer relationships, all the stuff that made them hot and valuable and challenging (all the stuff Rachel said) I bring with me, and my relationship is substantively different because of it. The sex we have, and how we decide to have it, and how we make decisions and how we process our feelings and how we decide roles – we build that from the ground up and it’s queer as fuck. You aren’t queer in spite of your partner.

    Rachel, beautiful advice. Thank you <3

  12. Beautiful, articulate and such incredibly thoughtful advice.

    This applies to so many of us, whether we are currently or have in the past or may in the future date men.

    I’ve been thinking so much about how liberated I have felt being in a long term relationship with a woman after so many years caught in severe anxiety of feeling “too much, too loud, too fat” with men. Yet especially in the beginning (but still now) I would miss the validation of men thinking I’m attractive because in my head that “counted” more. It’s all so layered and it’s been a journey that I’m still on to unlearn some of that

  13. “I’m not saying women who date men in straight contexts can’t or don’t have standards or desires for partners, but that the overwhelming cultural narrative is that they should work to be desired, not to desire.”
    Wow so good

  14. This is so so good, Rachel. So careful and smart and gentle and…complete, if that even makes sense. I love how you broke it down into all the component parts.

    I’ve had so many similar thoughts and feelings, LW — I’ve spent so many hours spent trying to think through “what does this specific attraction mean for who I am/what my sexuality officially is/how I will live my life?” I want to add to the chorus of people saying that this makes you no less queer (also, the tendency to get deep into your feelings re what being into one specific person says about you/your internalized phobias/societal conditioning etc, is pretty queer, just saying). No one can take your queerness away from you!

    I also really want to double- and triple- emphasize what Rachel said about how no relationships are completely devoid of shitty internalized misogyny and homo/bi-phobia. I think there’s maybe a tendency to get nostalgic and sort of romanticize/gloss over the things that were brought up in previous relationships/situations when in the angst about a new one — at least for me, I’m like, “well with so-and-so I never felt the need to compare our bodies,” forgetting that, also with so-and-so, I was fully obsessed with the idea that they were more “truly queer” than I was and I’d never compare, just for example. You can never totally shut the door to these things. They’ll just pop their mean little heads in a window.

    That metaphor got away from me a bit! Anyway, I hope that you accept and embrace all the supportive comments here as proof that the queer community (or at least this good corner of it) will still be here for you. Idk whether it’ll work out with this guy, but I wish you so much luck! I think in general it usually feels better to not let fear/self-hatred be the motivating force in decisions. But I also totally understand if the fear/anxiety is just too much!! That’s also super valid.

  15. I really, really appreciate this question. I’m going through the exact same thing right now, and all kinds of body image issues are coming back that I havent had to deal with since I was a teenager. For the last five years I’ve felt beautiful, wanted, AND curvy, pierced, and hairy as fuck. I’ve been able to love myself as a queer woman and be exactly who I wanted to be. Then some boy wanders past my life and suddenly I’m living in a different community, I see my body differently, and I can’t remember how to love myself anymore. (He wasn’t interested, and let me tell you that did NOT help the pain of the internalized male gaze.)

    It’s a hard place to be, but it was amazing to read about your experiences and hear from someone feeling such similar things as I am right now.

    • This sounds so familiar…but for me was driven by a…thing…with a girl that stopped, sort of. But in the aftermath, I realised had forgotten how to love myself/my body/even just to be myself. So maybe some of it is part of the terribleness/amazingness of crushing? Where you put yourself on the line and make yourself so vulnerable? I hope you feel better in yourself soon…I am gradually getting back to some sort of normal though I don’t think I will be the same as I was before. Sorry if this makes zero sense, it’s 3am…

  16. Wowee! This was my swirling pit of feelings about 2 years ago (actually, I’m still in the swirling pit from time to time, welcome!). I started falling for a guy after identifying as a lesbian and dating women exclusively for a decade. This guy did not care about whether or not I fit into some conventional standard of womanhood —and I was unwilling to apologize for that or try to be someone else anyway— he just dug who I am. So we started dating, I re-came out to all my friends (who ranged from seriously confused to “eh, who cares?”) and I had a lot of feelings about it that I shared with one or two close friends, but mostly kept to myself.

    Coming out was by far the most liberating thing I ever did for myself. Suddenly all these years later, I had to learn to feel okay in the in-between space of queerness and to understand that who I am is valid even if it isn’t as neat and tidy as I thought it was. And yes, I am still thinking a lot about what it means to appeal to the male gaze and how much of that I’m willing to participate in (the short answer is: only the parts I like).

    Now that I’m in a relationship with a cis man, I have to speak up about my sexuality to be seen, which is something I’m still navigating. But it feels good to raise that flag and say “yes, I am with this person and I am also queer. And he knows it and now you know it.” Don’t be afraid to follow your heart wherever it takes you: Be your loud, queer wonderful self.

  17. When I realised that actually I am attracted to and fall in love with women (I was already end of my 20ies) I spend quite a while on trying to decide if I identify as “lesbian” or rather “bisexual” so I tried to imagine if I could ever be attracted or fall in love with a man and so on but it was a question I had no reply to at that point.Then I realized that I used my energy at the wrong place and if I accept one or the other as a “working definition” it would lead me to what I need to do connect with other women/people in the same situation I didn’t know any queers at that time. Definitions and words can be very useful if we need to communicate or find like-minded people or be true to ourselves (for other people or me in different situations the difference between “lesbian” or “bisexual” can be very important and liberating) but words aren’t perfect and aren’t a truth in themselves. So in case they are not helpful in a certain situation and make you suffer let them go. Good luck on your journey

  18. Feeling for OP so much! I’m in a similar situation, having had to drop the “lesbian” identifier a while back for “bi” and “queer.” It hurts sometimes thinking about how hard it was/is to accept myself, only now to have casual onlookers think that I’m straight (the literal horror! Ack!). What has helped me a lot is thinking about the ways that I am ~substantively~ queer in my life and relationships, whether that’s an intersectional understanding of politics, the way I navigate friendships and relationships… I’ve also been helped a lot by the fact that my boyfriend is so incredibly supportive. (and not in a creepy way!) He watched the ENTIRE L WORD SERIES with me last year (my fourth time, tbh), listens to me rant about gay shit, actively participates in jokes about “str8 ppl humor” and the like. He’s the only person in the town I just moved to that I could show AS’s “Shenny” April Fools content with who would appreciate it (Which is a whole other thing, I need gay friends in my town.) Anyway, my only advice is to just really lean in to your queerness, and all the parts of it that aren’t tied up in who you happen to be dating. There might be more than you think at first! Best of luck! Hugs!

  19. Hi, I relate to this in some ways, as I have zero attraction to men for a good 5 or so years (upon coming out as queer), and now I do sometimes find myself attracted to and even dating men. I was concerned with how this would work, as I am androgynous and hairy and wear men’s clothes and have a shaved head…. which tend to be really hot to the queer community and really not in the straight community. It killed a lot of my self esteem and made me unsure how to approach dating

    TO MY VERY SERIOUS SURPRISE, there are a lot of men who are actually super into androgyny and happening to own the same clothes as the person they are dating. Some identify as queer or bi, some just like what they like, some are happy enough to be getting off that they don’t particularly care about your hairy legs. I can’t say whether the man you’re crushing on fits this, but there are men that do. Find them. If he’s worth dating, he will let you dress, groom, act the way that YOU want, even if it’s not how (straight) women are “supposed” to

  20. I’m super duper queer and inexplicably married to a man! It’s really weird! I’ve never been happier in my whole dumb life but sometimes it still feels pretty surreal. I have a hard time not telling every person I meet that I AM NOT A STRAIGHT PERSON [!!!] and some days/situations are harder than others to stave off that identity crisis. Sometimes it’s even sad. But the important thing is being happy with a Human Being.

  21. Love is love…right? For some of us, that hits home in weird ways and at weird times. I know you say it’s just a crush, but it’s a new reveal of a facet of your personhood that was perhaps hidden before, and if you try to overcome these negative feelings and embrace this side of yourself, imagine how powerful you will feel. Whether or not this man reciprocates your feelings doesn’t matter because you are grappling with these issues in an careful, informed, and self-caring way. Good for you! Be true to yourself. if that means saying bye to this guy, fine; if that means jumping headfirst into a (terrifying) relationship, so be it. But either way, you’ll find your path, and you’ll feel more empowered in the process. <3
    A.

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